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6 Mind bending science books you need to read

BY Alice Gawthrop

22nd Nov 2023 Must Reads

4 min read

6 Mind bending science books you need to read
With the winner of the 2023 Royal Society Science Book Prize due to be announced imminently, here are the shortlisted books that should be on your reading list
Whether you have a background in science or are just a little curious about some of the world’s mysteries, these science books have something for everyone. What’s more, they’re all shortlisted for the 2023 Royal Society Science Book Prize.
From the wonders of flight and the world as it exists beyond human senses to the story of discrimination against women in science, these titles will change the way that you see the world around you.

Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World (in a Big Way) by Roma Agrawal 

Nuts and Bolts
Award-winning Shard engineer and broadcaster Roma Agrawal breaks down some of the greatest feats of engineering, from skyscrapers to space travel, into seven key inventions that made them possible. Written in an engaging and humorous tone, with personal touches such as a letter to Agrawal’s daughter, this book will have you looking at the world around you through a new lens.
"Even the humble nail has a riveting history and has led to world-changing engineering"
Roma Agrawal says: "My aim is to invoke everyone's joy for engineering! Rather than look at the stuff around us and think it's too complicated to understand, or worse, boring, I write stories about inventors, explorers, geographies and technology through the ages to show people how even the humble nail has a riveting history and has led to world-changing engineering. You'll never see your world in the same way again."

Jellyfish Age Backwards: Nature’s Secrets to Longevity by Nicklas Brendborg, translated by Elizabeth de Noma

Jellyfish Age Backwards
Ageing always seems to be on our minds. Biologist and youngest shortlist in the Prize’s history, Nicklas Brendborg takes us on a mind bending deep dive into the topic. Without resorting to grandiose claims about ways to stay young indefinitely, Brendborg guides readers through the science of ageing and how you can make it easier on yourself.
Nicklas Brendborg says: "Ageing is something most people take for granted yet nature reveals it’s a remarkably flexible phenomenon. Animals can age quickly, slowly, gradually, suddenly, backwards and not at all. Jellyfish Age Backwards is a journey through this extraordinary realm as well as a primer on the most cutting edge research on ageing and longevity. I hope it gives the reader inspiration for a healthy life and motivates them to join in the fight against humanity's common enemy.”

Taking Flight: The Evolutionary Story of Life on the Wing by Lev Parikian

Taking Flight
Lev Parikian brings a well-deserved sense of wonder to the act of flight. His book explores fourteen different flying species, starting 300 million years ago with insects and coming right up to the birds and butterflies of today. 
"I’ve tried to convey the sense of wonder I feel whenever I see something defying gravity"
Lev Parikian says: “We’re surrounded by flying animals—whether birds, insects or bats—yet we all too easily take them for granted. Taking Flight explores the how, why and when of this remarkable phenomenon through the stories of 14 species. I’ve tried to convey the sense of wonder I feel whenever I see something defying gravity, and hope to nudge the reader towards a deeper appreciation of this miraculous ability.”

Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus by David Quammen

Just when you thought there was nothing left to say about Covid, David Quammen brings something new to the table. Drawing on interviews with the scientists tasked with fighting the pandemic, Breathless explores the story of SARS-CoV-2 as well as the wider story of new viruses emerging when we disrupt ecosystems.
David Quammen says: “Setting out to write about this pandemic, I knew there would be many books on the subject and I wanted to produce one that was different and uniquely valuable. I chose to write about the virus itself, SARS-CoV-2: it’s origin, evolution, and fierce journey through the human population. I wrote also about the scientists who study it—their work, their ideas and their own lives as people during this terrible time. And I had one other aspiration: to make the book a page-turner, a thriller, factually accurate in all ways but with narrative drive.”

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong

An Immense World
In this immersive page-turner, Ed Yong takes us past our own senses to help us imagine how the world is perceived by the animals with which we share this planet. Going beyond sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, Yong invites us to explore vibrations, electric fields and beyond.
"I think empathy is a muscle that you can build by repeatedly flexing"
Ed Yong says: “I hope the book makes people more curious about the creatures around them and makes them more empathetic—able to put themselves in the shoes of other lives that are very different to their own. We could all use a little more empathy in the world and I think empathy is a muscle that you can build by repeatedly flexing.”

The Exceptions: Nancy Hopkins and the Fight for Women in Science by Kate Zernike

The exceptions
Have you heard of Nancy Hopkins? If not, that’s something Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kate Zernike is trying to remedy with this story about women scientists who fought against discrimination in their field. 
Kate Zernike says: "I wanted to write a story about the power of women coming together, but also about the power of science, so that readers fall in love with science the way these women did, and appreciate how much we all risk losing when we deny anyone the full opportunity to pursue it.”
The winner of the 2023 Royal Society Science Book Prize will be announced on November 22, 2023
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